Have you ever dreamed a New Year’s wish?

Photo © 2006 Linus Bohman CC BY 2.0

Once in a while you have one of those dreams that sticks with you after you wake up, moves you, speaks to you, but in ways you don’t understand upon waking. I had such a dream New Year’s morning. And the first thing I did was to write it down, or at least as much as I remembered:

I have prepared a presentation in a college course. But the professor decides not to use it, despite the work I’ve put into it. And no one seems to care.

Now I have prepared another presentation in the same course. I’ve put even more work into this one: researched my subject completely, prepared overhead slides, the works. Anxiety grips me, whether the professor and the rest of the class will receive my presentation well, or whether they will hate it, because I’ve never before given a presentation quite like this. But I remind myself that it’s better to try new things, to do what I haven’t succeeded at before, to expand my horizons, even if I ultimately fail at this attempt, because this is how I grow as a human being.

I leave class to double-check the overhead computer setup. I return just in time to give my presentation. But instead of calling on me, the professor announces another student, who is to give a presentation related to mine. That’s a mistake, however, because he’s already given his presentation, which the professor realizes as he walks up to the podium. He steps down off the dais and returns to his seat, and the professor calls another student to go.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering when my turn is going to come. It was supposed to be now. But maybe the professor just got his schedule confused. Maybe I’ll go next.

Now I am facing the student who had given the related presentation. I am sitting in his part of the lecture hall, in the seat in front of him, looking back across the table at him. He explains to me that I don’t have to give my presentation anymore, because he already gave his. Angry, I tell him that I do have to, because of all the work I’ve put into it. He tells me that it’s much better this way, because now I don’t have to worry about whether I’ll be any good.

My anger turns to rage. I yell at him that I need to give this presentation, because of all the work I put into it. He still doesn’t understand. I’m screaming now, that the professor was unfair, that the whole class must hear my presentation, because it has to make a difference.

I realize that this presentation is part of my search for meaning in my life, that it is something I haven’t done before and I’m nervous about; therefore, it will cause me to grow.

I repeat to my classmate, “It has to make a difference!”

By now, the whole class has noticed my behavior, and they are all cheering at me.

I know that the big presentation in my dream is the book I’ve been working on. I had almost completed it, and I was on the verge of the post-revision blues— or (in this case) post-production blues.

That would make the first presentation my last book. The first phases of a writing career, no matter how ultimately successful, always bring its author frustration. A new author’s worries—not that people will hate her work—but that no one will even care. And more often than not, that’s what comes to pass, that no matter how many people love your work, there are never as many as you had hoped, and they’re never as enthused about it as you are. This is neither the fault of the fans nor of the author; it’s simply the way things work.

I had experienced much of that sort of anxiety and dismay with the Love-Idiot book. For example, even though I received numerous personal complements, few of those turned into reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Most of those who expressed interest, I found it hard to get them to read it— and I sympathize, because I myself have a stack of books at home that I haven’t yet read.

Now, From the Ashes of Courage represents an even greater leap forward for me. With this book, I feel like I’ve hit my stride. I long to read more books like this—literally, I’ve been looking for them—but there are so few, long on humanity, short on sex. Precious few authors really understand the human condition.

This is the beginning stage in a novel’s life, in which only those who have a vested interest have had anything to say about it. And now it’s finally left the nest, taken its first tentative steps into the wild, to subject itself to those who have no vested interest, and as its parent, you hope that they too will support it. But the nagging fear remains, that no one will even read the first few chapters, that I won’t be able to find a way to reach out to its fans, or that they’ll reject me. In my dream, then, the class represents my fans. I fear that they’ll reject me. (Yes, dreams reveal the gory feelings that we loathe to share.) But they end up sympathizing with me and cheering me on in the end. It’s enough to make an author cry with joy, and not just me. Seriously, other authors have stories, too. I don’t know if fans realize how much their enthusiastic support truly means, on an emotional level. I know that I didn’t realize, until I was myself an author.

The other student probably represents the other authors who have been more successful than me. The professor is the book industry, which generally looks down on indie authors. (Hell, it even sometimes looks down on established, mid-list authors.) The slides are probably the supplementary material in the advance edition that I had been double-checking at the time I had the dream.

But what struck me most about this dream, and what I remembered most, is the ending. “It has to make a difference!” See, I never write just for the drama. I believe that good stories have something to say, not in a preachy way, but because they reflect the human condition. And I try to integrate those messages into every story I write. And I long for others to feel those subtexts and to take them to heart. I want to make a difference.

That’s my New Year’s wish.